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A Tasmanian NBN Experience
April 2013

Different names have been used to protect the privacy of those involved.  Thank you to those who made suggestions.

The copper wire phone connection

For more than 70 years Australians have enjoyed a phone that works.  It has been a simple exercise to connect with the outside world, lift up the receiver, dial the number from clearly defined digits, listen for the dial tone, talk, and then end the call, placing the receiver back onto the phone.

It was extremely simple.

It needed only very low electrical current to function, and it mostly operated irrespective of intense weather events, storms, cyclones, floods, fires.  If it didn’t, then service was quickly available.  It was for the most part, very efficient, reliable and the service technicians knew what had to be fixed and how to fix it.  This has been my experience across my life and I’ve lived in various parts of regional Australia and a big city (Sydney) during my nearly 70 years. 

Tasmania’s aged population
ABS: PEOPLE AGED 65 YEARS AND OVER

At June 2011, there were 82,100 people aged 65 years and over in Tasmania, making up 16.1% of the state’s total population. This was an increase from 13.8% in 2001. Tasmania had the highest proportion of people aged 65 years and over among the states and territories, just ahead of South Australia (15.9%). [author emphasis].

The SA2 of Triabunna - Bicheno on the east coast had the highest proportion of people aged 65 years and over (25.2%) in 2011, reflecting its popularity as a place to retire. This was followed by Norwood (24.6%) in Launceston, and Lindisfarne - Rose Bay (23.6%) on Hobart’s eastern shore, both of which contain large aged care facilities. [ABS. 3250_0 Populations of Australia by Age and Sex.2011].

How many aged (particularly women) have never used a mobile phone, a computer and have no idea or grasp of the new electronics jargon and its technology?

As FN understands the situation, this cohort will be ‘forced’ – by courtesy of the Tasmanian Labor Government – to relinquish their land line phone in the future and join up to the NBN.

Tasmania’s OPT-IN decision in 2010

As I understand it – and I stand to be corrected – Tasmania is the only state in the Commonwealth that has passed legislation to ensure its population must OPT-IN to the NBN.  As a consequence as the NBN rolls out across Tasmania, the copper wire connection at the exchange will be disconnected. Not only will the copper wire be disconnected but the current services of the internet, email, Broadband, ADSL etc. will disappear as well.  There is around an 18 month transition time in which people can make some decision as to what they want, once their street or district has been NBN “rolled-out”.

Have people been asked what they want?  Do they want to keep their land line phone?  Do they want the package of NBN, its phone, internet, email etc? What else is an equivalent substitute (cost-wise, reliability, ease-of-use, etc) for what we have at present if the NBN is not taken up? 

One thing is sure.  With the disappearance of the copper wire land line our choice in decision making vanishes.

This has been the most top-down poorly implemented decision I can remember across my life.  [See information at the end of this piece]

The only state to pass legislation to Opt-IN, Tasmania, also has the oldest population in the nation. My opinion is that this massive change has gone on very quietly.  Very quietly indeed.  There has been a total lack of adequate information and education for the cohort who may be hard of hearing, have arthritic fingers, can suffer chronic health difficulties and more. 

Here follows the story of husband and wife, Jack and Jill and their Friendly Neighbour (FN) with the coming of the NBN.

Connecting to the NBN

Jack, Jill and FN are elderly persons with chronic ill health.  Two have suffered heart attacks and one survives on one kidney. FN, who lives alone and neighbours Jack and Jill are currently on a Telstra Priority Assistance list due to all their serious health problems.  That means that if any problem occurs with their copper wire phone line, Telstra has to attend to it within 24 hours and fix it.  Both have connections close to their beds; NN’s last heart attack occurred at 4.30am.

FN has not been trained in matters electrical, nor IT, engineering, physics, or associated new electronics technologies, but has used computers since 1987.  FN uses ADSL2 Broadband, is quite happy with the modest band-width download, a modestly priced “plan” and IT service provider. FN has used email and the internet daily for a small business home “office” for 18 years. This has been via the copper cable which is located underground.  The distance from the suburban street to the house is quite long (90+m); there are many rocks, large trees, and many shrubs.  The pipe with its inset copper wire (or wires) lies underneath all the trees, possibly rocks, shrubs and undergrowth. 

Neighbour Jill bought a computer etc and joined up to the email /internet service in the past few years to enable communication with near relatives in far flung places in Australia.  This couple don’t use the email /internet services in the way that FN does but electronic delivery is an important part of their lives. Email, like the phone is a link to the outside world, to known family and a source of comfort and security.

FN, Jack and Jill live in one of the Tasmanian “designated” areas in which NBN cables have already been installed along the street.  These are overground, strung up under the electricity cables. 

FN suspects that most people think that the NBN is a very good thing, taking Tasmania well into the 21st century with fast broadband. 

FN’s experience is very different when it gets to the nitty-gritty, pointy end of the delivery. 

FN has a letter from Kieren Cooney, Chief Communications Officer NBN Co. (no date when sent) to the effect that for this area “These existing phone and internet services will be permanently switched off on 23 May 2014,” which is less than a year away.

Difficulties in seeking requisite information. 

In past months, FN sought many times to gain precise answers to many questions relating to any potential cost to the new service, how a fibre optic cable would be installed to FN’s house, the inside installation, the Priority Assistance issue, who would be actually responsible for future servicing and so on.  FN has spent many, many frustrating hours on the phone, with both the 1800 NBN number and as well the service provider.

There are obvious problems even to the most casual observer.  FN attended “sessions” that were publicly offered.  They were of little value, one simply a talk-fest for the politicians in FN’s view.  Part 2 explains there is a serious failure right at the initial “information-gathering,” part of the process.

We have long used face-to-face communication and a reliable easy-to-use phone service but this has now passed….

Moving forward; taking up the NBN offer.

Jack and Jill were rung by someone spruiking the NBN in March.  They said yes and agreed to join up and have the NBN. The cable having been laid along the street, pressure “joining-up” letters started to arrive. However, as always the devil is in the detail.  There are sub contractors and sub contractors of sub contractors.  It’s like pulling teeth to obtain a Christian name.  No surnames or telephone numbers of course are given out. Clearly there is pressure from somewhere and someone (up the chain of command) that has made these sorts of directives. 

It appears no contractor will adequately “scope” your land for you, re the possible change to NBN until the agreement to convert to NBN is made and the dotted line signed. 

Chain of process: Fibre from the street to the house

After Jack and Jill signed on, the first of the sub contractors arrived.  Finding the Telstra pit on the street, then lines into the house presented a large problem. A few months earlier FN had needed to call out a Telstra technician [it was a loose wire connection apparently down the street]. FN took the opportunity to ask him about the land line cable. There was no plan to the houses. Somehow it appeared that possibly two copper wires came up the same pipe, with an offshoot to FN’s house and to Jack and Jill’s house.  Subsequently, FN crawled under the house (very difficult) to locate where the copper wire entered the house and where it went within the house, (multiple points).  Still uncertain is exactly where the underground copper wire inside its pipe is located from the street to FN’s house.

The sub contractors never courteously knocked on FN’s front door. The dual copper underground wires in their pipe were considered to be on FN’s land so – in my view - they may have been trespassing. Quite rapidly the sub contractors decided for Jack and Jill that they couldn’t use the existing pipe (with its copper wires), but not before exploration to uncover its location put a large hole in the original pipe exposing copper wires.

“Negotiation” about an exposed copper wire took a few weeks to fix with rain in between.  Ultimately an excavator made a new long trench adjacent to the Jack and Jill’s drive to carry the fibre optic cable to the house.  It was very neatly done.  Their concrete drive had to be broken in order to extend the trench and fibre optic cable to their house.  That irregularity also took a few weeks to fix, again neatly done.  The NBN “box” was installed on the outside of their house.

The in-house installation

A second different ‘team’ arrived some time later to install the inside components.  As I understand it, there’s a modem, two back up batteries (because of the Priority Assistance, one of which will be subsequently returned to Telstra) a Network Termination Device (NTD), and the power supply unit. A plethora of wires go everywhere, including into a power board. 

In the installation “process” Jack and Jill lost their internet and email service, including over Easter but still had their copper wire land line. It was some time before the lack of email was discovered.  Jill – when she realised she had no email – wanted her email back.  She couldn’t understand the Philippine voices and their instructions, (no phone connection next to the computer) wasting hours on the phone with different people, getting more stressed, trying to explain the problem of an email /internet system that was dysfunctional and didn’t work. A private computer consultant couldn’t restore the service.  Several weeks went by.  The NBN “boxes” had been installed inside the house, no fibre optic phone connection had occurred but there was no internet/email service. 

The saga worsens.
The tortuous mire of Privacy Acts and Corporate Responsibility

As the privately engaged computer expert couldn’t reconnect the system, was it surely an NBN problem? Jack and Jill meanwhile had an unopened box in one room. It appears it was sent by Telstra.  It contained an Interim phone, another modem and possibly a small battery.  This remained unopened, and was never actioned, to possibly “tide-over” the period between the outside-inside-fibre-optic phone installation. Possibly it was to prevent situations such as had already occurred with the email /internet and what was to subsequently happen in respect of the fibre optic phone.  All persons may not receive this box of goodies; only those on Priority Assistance.  This is however far from clear.

The next ‘team’ of NBN sub contractors came to supposedly “fix” the internet /email service; a modem difficulty? As FN understands the sequence of events, this ‘team’ had to also install the fibre optic phone.  Several things happened. The email/internet service was fixed, the old copper wire phone was taken away and the new fibre optic phone was left in its place.  But it didn’t work.  However Jack and Jill didn’t know this. The couple had apparently already gone without a phone for 48 hours when FN tried to ring the neighbours.  When attempting to dial in, the phone went straight to Telstra 101 Home messages. Puzzled, FN walked physically next door almost at dusk, to investigate why Jill hadn’t rung as anticipated. 

FN attempted to get a dial tone on their new phone, when trying to dial out; instead silly ‘wizard’ messages came up on the phone panel. These changed according to which function key was activated. The new fibre optic phone line couldn’t be activated to receive calls in, or make calls out.  And something had “deactivated” the mobile phone as well.  Jack and Jill didn’t know this either. 

They had no immediate connection to the outside world.

Across this period an awful night delivered pouring rain (2” or 50mm in 3 hours).  FN didn’t want to leave the two elderly folk with no communication, one aged in their 90s, the other late 80s without a phone. They were clearly highly stressed, if not frightened.

Had either Jack or Jill had another life-threatening medical emergency, without communication, their lives could have been quickly snuffed out.

Is this a future scenario, courtesy of the currently existing Telstra/ NBN atrocious lack of policy, lack of process and chain of command that presently exists? [See Part 2].

Early next morning FN took both Jack and Jill to the Telstra shop.  They had to wait in a queue, the usual situation at this shop. The young man was very pleasant, couldn’t of course fix the problem but offered another phone number.  The Telstra shop employee also managed to find out that it was an Activations “problem” (rather than a “Fault” problem) as FN had suggested ringing the 24 hour Priority Assistance Telstra number. We all returned home. A first call was made apparently to the “Activations Group”, whoever they are (NBN or Telstra?) and a long saga began. FN then spent the next 4 or more hours on the phone.  Not at all clear to FN from the early conversation was whether this was a “responsibility issue” between one company (NBN) and another company (Telstra).

Four different people in two different states (none in Tasmania) were involved across Australia as the day progressed.

The relative “remoteness” of operators was an issue, (North Queensland, Melbourne) as was the fact that different operators answered the line with the different phone calls. The nature of the problem was repeated, over and over…

The Privacy Act becomes a nightmare when such an issue as this one occurs.  FN rang not from Jack and Jill’s number (because the phone didn’t obviously work) but from FN’s own number next door using the copper wire land line. The operator though kept saying, “no we can’t tell you, we can only negotiate with the owner of the problem;” FN countered with twists and turns, “But they have no phone; they can’t ring you, their phone doesn’t work.” An immediate superior was asked, then asked again what to do.  More time went by as the discussion circled endlessly with no result.  FN then went to the neighbours with a working mobile phone and commenced the process again.  Hanging on at a $1 per minute…..

Yet another new phone number was offered in this vast, oblique, nameless “system” of operators, phone numbers, more operators, passing-the-buck scenario with no resolution in sight.  It seemed from the outside of this nightmare that one job couldn’t be cancelled (NBN?) because the old “job” somehow was still “activated” and still on the “system,” [whose “system”?].  So another job couldn’t be created (Telstra?) to allow for a different technician [Telstra?] to come to the house. 

By 2.00 pm or thereabouts Jill had no certainty that the fibre optic phone would be fixed before nightfall.  FN tried again, again from the land line as previously and to the same previously called number, requesting to be connected to the previous operator or his superior.  This didn’t happen.  The same matter of privacy arose, again because the line was answered this time by a different operator, the previous one being busy. More repetition of the problem occurred.  By this time FN’s patience had worn very thin.  The inanity of any supposed coherent “process” to quickly fix the problem at hand, the inflexible directives in such a situation, above all, no assurance as to a time of arrival of a technician or a working phone line, was simply unbelievable. 

Can you stand hearing more of this atrocious tale of bungling, incompetence, lack of directive, refusal to accept responsibility, diversion of blame and fault, and equipment that doesn’t work?  I hope so, so you know what to expect.  This could easily happen to YOU ! 

After another frustratingly long conversation, FN stated to the 4th operator – who was clearly also stressed and kept apologising profusely for the stuff up – that unless Jack and Jill’s phone was be fixed before nightfall, that FN be given a time and assurance for a technician’s prompt arrival that day, (or what was left of it), then the saga might be “a pretty story on the 7.30 pm Report.”  A Telstra technician arrived quite promptly after this conversation ended. He knew what he was doing, and was a life safer to what had been a dreadful day, and a very stressful previous 48 hours. FN’s impressions are that the Telstra employees know quickly what the issue is but most importantly, how to fix it. 

It turned out that Jack and Jill’s line somehow had been cut off and “decommissioned” at the exchange.  “We’re getting a few of these” noted XXX the Telstra technician.  He was so patient with the Jack and Jill explaining to them the new phone process.

The saga continues albeit not as dramatic as it was earlier.  The fibre optic phone now has a blue light perpetually flashing and no one it seems has been able to fix it… ???

Part 1
May 2013

Early in May Jack had attempted to ring to find out why there were still parts of the NBN system, that lay in their packages, not installed.  This consisted of a phone with a handset that looks like a landline phone, a small modem, and a smaller battery.  Having wasted three quarters of an hour on the phone to the Philippines the person promised to look into the matter.  Someone would call. The Philippine caller disappeared off the phone line. No one ever rang back.

The blue light continued to flash on the phone.

On the 14th May there was a last call into Jack and Jill’s number in the early evening and then the phone went dead.  Jack had no idea what he’d done; blaming himself.  Nothing had been “done” differently to other calls received earlier in May.  Next morning Jack and Jill went to the Telstra Shop. The female employee noted that someone couldn’t come out that day (15th May) to restore the phone service but someone would definitely be out the following day to fix the phone.  Jack had turned 93 years of age on the 15th May but there were no calls.  Worried members of the family couldn’t understand why.  At first the phone had appeared to have a ring tone, (14th May) later it had a ‘not in service’ message to in-callers, and later again it rang as though engaged.  FN became aware by 15 May that the neighbour‘s phone was not working.

FN went in to see Jack and Jill at 4.40pm on 16th May to find out whether the Telstra shop employee’s promise had been actioned. Thursday 16 May had come and gone.  No one had arrived. The phone remained dead. FN suggested ringing the Priority Assistance number. FN rang from her mobile phone in Jack and Jill’s place. A male voice answered.  He was located in the Philippines. The problem was explained to him.  Including the fact that the Telstra shop promise hadn’t delivered any result.  He asked questions such as how many phones were there in the house, how many sockets, was the modem working, (how do the elderly know whether the modem is working?).  FN kept saying “please fix this phone… tonight. There hasn’t been a phone for 48 hours.  These people have Priority Assistance.”

Time passed. The employee went away to do some line testing. He came back.  “It’s an NBN fault.” 

FN: “I don’t care whose fault it is, I just want the phone fixed… tonight.”

Silence. FN repeated her request. 

Philippines: “I can’t do that, if I lodge this as a Telstra fault, I will be fired.” 

The phone was then suddenly diverted probably back to Australia. The female voice on the other end of the line said, “Telstra Sales.”

FN: “I don’t want Telstra Sales, I just want my phone fixed.  And fixed tonight.  Why am I speaking to you.”  The problem was explained… again.

Telstra sales’ lady.  “I don’t know.”  Again the phone was switched and another female voice was on the line. 

The problem was explained again.  No working phone. 

Second female voice: “You will need to go to “Technical Services”.  There is a waiting time of 20 minutes.  Do you want to wait?”  “This is the number 1800 834 273, NBN Technical Support”.

FN, said “no” and then hurriedly changed it to a yes.  “But I might not have enough money on my mobile phone to hang on for 20 minutes.”  Second female voice told FN to ring off, and she would ring back so Telstra had to pay for the call.  She mentioned that I’d have to Click Option 4 but FN was never given the option so doesn’t know whether the female employee did this.  It was now 5.05pm. 

The time stretched out to 5.20pm, then 5.30pm, then 5.40pm. Just muzak and more muzak.  Jack and Jill were clearly stressed. 

At 5.45pm a male from Townsville answered the phone. Again the problem of a non working phone was explained to him.  “Oh we’ve had quite a few calls like this coming in from Tasmania” he noted.  “has there been a storm or something?”  “No storm” noted FN.

FN was not sitting anywhere near the NBN equipment.  The Townsville employee requested that FN do some “basic” tasks.  FN was unsure.  The modem had to be brought out from behind its hidden placement. A set of instructions was issued from Townsville in relation to the modem.  These involved both looking at its front lights, and its back “face” almost simultaneously, whilst still hanging on to a mobile phone and listening and trying to do as was instructed.  Clearly this is not easy, and given it was now dark outside, and the inside lights in the house were not especially strong it was difficult to see. Jill rushed off and found a torch.  The modem to FN’s mind is probably the cheapest one that could be constructed.  Unlike FN’s current modem, there is really no easily detected switch on-off button at the rear which tells the customer which is the on-off button.  One has to watch the modem lights at the front to tell whether the device is switched on or off.  The black not-very-obvious button was the on-off button. 

The modem had to be turned off, turned on, repeatedly a number of times.  Did the phone work.  No it didn’t. A second request was made.  At the back of the modem was another tiny, very tiny circular “hole.” Someone with indifferent eyesight might not have easily seen it.  FN was then directed by Townsville to get a toothpick or the end of a paper clip and poke it into the hole while counting to ten.  Fancy that!!  One just has on store close to a phone, close to a modem, a toothpick, and or the end of a paper clip, whilst hanging on to the mobile phone, listening to instructions, watching both the back and front of the modem, what was happening.  Then counting to 10.  One, two, three, four…. 

Are we in the 21st century or somewhere else?

This so-tiny hole was apparently the re-set mechanism but there was no button to press which might have been considerably easier to find, and to operate.  Who has handy a toothpick or a paper clip in the extraordinary charade that was taking place? Jill rushed away to find one.  It was now 6.20pm.  Townsville wanted one last task.  The phone was still dead, but it did have a message in its panel.  The phone said it wanted to be re-registered.  Again Townsville requested that FN be taken through the “process” of registering the phone. 

FN had spent more than one and a half hours on the phone.  FN baulked at this request.  “No, I’m not a technician, I ought not to have to do these things, I don’t know how to “register” a phone, I don’t understand why it suddenly needs to be “registered.”  I just want a phone fixed, I want a technician to come out and fix this phone… tonight.”  The Townsville voice disappeared.  It was now 6.35pm.  Nearly 2 hours had passed and there was no resolution.

Townsville returned. A technician was due to come tomorrow, 17th May between 8-12am.  Will it happen?  FN asked Townsville was this Telstra or was this NBN, this line to Townsville.  It was Telstra. 

Will the nightmare end?

CONCLUSION

Part 2
April
Initial information-gathering, beginning part of the process.

Whoever the operators are at the service centre end of the NBN 1800 “service” line, they haven’t been given adequate training or comprehension instruction for detail that emerges at ground level. Hours were wasted waiting on a phone line.  The answers, when they came, weren’t tailored to FN’s questions, thus were unsatisfactory. One operator noted “no one has ever asked me questions like this.” 

At the beginning of the “process” of change to fibre optic connection, the process fails.

It needs face-to-face communication.

How many aged in Tasmania who have never used computers, don’t own a mobile, a smart phone or an APP, who are not conversant with the “new” language and electronic technology, will be made highly stressed by the inadequacy of NBN to provide on-ground requisite, reliable, easy-to-understand, accurate detailed, initial information. 

Every sub contractor that FN approached in the street or elsewhere to gain information had clear directives not to chat and give out information (“I’m not supposed to be doing this; it’s the scoping team” etc and “you haven’t heard this conversation” etc). All gave different information to the same questions which hardly made for confidence.

Is it too much to expect that it’s a right to be informed prior to signing a contract or saying “yes”?

The information as to whether connection would be an underground connection or over-ground connection to the house, how it was to be achieved, its location, what fibre optic connections occurred within a rather complicated old house, remained a blank for FN. 

Connection to the house

It’s very top down. The team arrive to put in the fibre optic cable.  Whatever the “scoping” team may have decided, the follow-up team (fibre-to-the-house), may decide on something different.  Obliqueness and opaqueness are very evident.  The owner is left hanging, having committed themselves.  There seems no clear policy integrated plan or command chain of directive linking one team’s job plan to the next one.
Is this too much to expect in the 21st century? 

Connection inside of the house.  Interrupted service.

The first person called when the Internet/email failed was the service provider.  How could Jack and Jill know it wasn’t a provider-service issue but an NBN issue?  Even so, the rote service question format from the overseas telephone operators is irrelevant when the issue at hand doesn’t “fit” to the problem. To a partially deaf person the intonations of another culture cannot be understood.

A dead phone.

The dead phone with no dial tone is a very, very serious issue when there are very serious health issues. But what followed from that discovery was even more shocking.

It seemed from the outside of this nightmare that one job couldn’t be cancelled (NBN?) because the old “job” somehow was still “activated” and still on the “system,” [whose “system”?].  So another job couldn’t be created (Telstra?) to allow for a different technician [Telstra?] to come to the house. 

Whichever corporation was “responsible”, for the dead phone, nothing was happening fast to restore it, Priority Assistance or not.  It pointed to a shockingly, infuriatingly, frighteningly, inept “chain of process” and “chain of command” to quickly restore a non working phone line. The facelessness, the opaqueness, operator difficulty in hearing, the Privacy Act conditions all feed into a highly stressed situation.

Responsibility

The atrocious sequence of events recounted in Part 1 (April) and Part 1A (May) points to the need for urgent change in management thinking.  Whatever the policy is, it has to be changed.  If there is no policy one is urgently required.

Finger pointing – in FN’s opinion – goes right to the top of the chain of command, the upper echelons of NBN and the governments which signed off on deals for this new electronics “system”, and then made it mandatory – in Tasmania – for persons to Opt-in. 

Currently without urgent change, too many assumptions are being made at the top of the current corporation hierarchies.  These include assumptions such as,

• Everyone has a backup mobile phone and can easily use its functions
• That both are always charged and operable
• That there is some “working” knowledge of electronics and new technologies in the household
• Someone in the household understands the “language” of new technology and so can follow the instructions orally
• Is not hard of hearing
• That at upper echelons, corporations are totally unaware or couldn’t care about the issues caused by Privacy Act provisions
• Don’t consider that both the fibre optic phone, /mobile connection could both be deactivated.
• Haven’t sorted out obvious confusion between what is perceived as an NBN problem or a Telstra problem
• Have no quick mechanism or policy in place to find and fix an NBN “fault”, or an “activation” fault, when the system breaks down. Priority Assistance?
• Are very happy to pass the “costs-arising” and time-wasting, onto the consumer
• Have no concept of hearing difficulties or of coping with (a) understanding remote voices from interstate or the other side of the world, (b) a “foreign” language, that is the language of electronics.  Employees – far down the chain from the top – mostly try to do their best but it’s a clear mismatch.
• Have no concept that everyone at this communication level becomes stressed.
• That the bottom line and fact remains that there is no connected, operative phone line

It’s about time Telstra, NBN, the federal and state governments sorted out who is going to be responsible for what when problems arise, such as those outlined. It’s highly likely that in the future, service providers too will become incorporated into the “mix” of responsibility. 

People will die given the current system.

Clearly the teething problems (and to FN’s mind these are many and huge in scope) haven’t been sorted out. 

Where are the real faces in this fiasco?  Asks FN, where are those at the top who give no email references, no telephone numbers, no proper signatures on fancy letters sent? Let them press the “button”, press 1, 2 and 99 etc. for hours, let them try to reason when the voice message isn’t satisfactory, and learn for themselves how oblique and confronting their service “communication” – or its lack – is. What they have put in place, IS very confronting, primarily because no resolution is achieved.

Where is the “system” that used to operate in this country?  A system that was easy to use, stress-free, rapid and accountable and was one that WORKED.  A system easily able to be used by elderly people and those on the Priority Assistance list. 

Costs and risks

As FN discovered across past months it is going to cost $120 p.a more for the same Internet service as FN currently has. It seems that the super fast Broadband is going to depend on the particular “plan” offered by the service provider.  FN’s interpretation is that it’s a user-pays system to get the very high speed delivery.  It apparently costs $264 to be joined to the new system.  Telstra meanwhile are apparently paid $1500 for every customer that signs on to the NBN.

“Service” costs will arise when things don’t work, just as this recent experience highlighted.  Costs which can add up very quickly when there are long phone delays at the other end at $1 a minute. FN’s experience was at least a 50 minute delay for just one of the phone calls.

There are going to be electricity costs and Tasmania’s electricity costs are rising exponentially.  The fact of a system running on power boards, 24/7, 365 days of the year, even when persons are absent on holiday for example, seems highly dangerous to FN.

There will be the enormous “costs” emotionally of laboriously negotiating the shocking “system” out there currently in place to “fix” problems or “activations”.

As the experience in Part 1, 1A relate, the “cost” is a hidden huge cost. 

The next loss of life caused by stress?

The delivered “free fibre optic phone”

It is highly likely that elderly people would want a different “free” fibre optic phone to the one being provided at present.  The “bells” and “whistles” should disappear and the phone needs to be as simple to use as the one it is replacing.  Persons will therefore most likely have to pay for what is not-even-at-present-available.  That is a phone that is easy to use with its digits and dialling modus operandi very, very clear. The phone provided is small in size (if compared to many non fibre optic phones in the Telstra shop) but is the only one being offered; the only one apparently so far manufactured for fibre optics.  For arthritic fingers and indifferent eyesight, the dialling numbers aren’t clear, they are difficult to use, the function soft keys are small and especially difficult to use, (especially if you’ve never used a function key in your life), the panel highlighting the number being called, far too small. 

Phone digit numbers pressed for an outgoing call need to be clear, very clear and easy to read and use, the number being dialled shown on the panel also needs to be large, very clear and easy to read. This is considered an enormous problem. 

The accompanying “booklet” which comes with the fibre optic phone is minimalist in the extreme. It assumes that everyone out there in Australia is a tech-head with some training.  The information is not even as good as that for a mobile phone.  If you’ve never encountered this “language” before, it will read like double-dutch. 

There is no troubleshooting page. 

Strangers

Sub contractors arrive at the house whom you don’t know, haven’t the name of, haven’t seen previously and may never see again.  Some have access to the inside of homes.

Part 2A.
May 2013

The May experience highlights that Priority Assistance and the special phone number provided to those who have been accorded Priority Assistance counts for nought when there is a non working NBN phone.

The Philippine voice disclosing fear of being fired following line “testing” was revealing.  It had disclosed the fault as an “NBN” fault uncovering the fact that those on the NBN with a fibre optic phone have in effect no Priority Assistance. 

It is patently clear to FN that orders have been given from the top that a technician – a physical presence – is only a last resort.

Phones and the system are trying to be fixed by remote control… from the Philippines or from somewhere remote in Australia.  There are sets of instructions.  If you’ve never encountered the technology or the language (as Jack hasn’t) then you have no idea of what you’re being “instructed” to do.  Add to this difficulties of hearing, difficulties of actually finding what is supposed to be found on some device, you have a systemic failure of communication of monumental proportions. 

One is suddenly thrust into a system that is a nightmare. 

It is a “system” clearly so short on adequate, quick, policy solutions to action and fix a non working fibre optic phone that it’s not believable. Everywhere the person (on their mobile phone) is placed in a queue and that queue is very long. There are hours of waiting.

This is not acceptable. 

It is a system, so full of errors, (both at the “service” communication level, and at the physical, practical technical level) that appears to pass the buck down the line, back to Australia. In hindsight what is in place sets up a chain of events that are farcical, tortuous, ridiculous and highly stressful to the aged and possibly anyone else.  They are also very costly given the waiting times given mobile phone plans.

People who are not familiar with the entire technology, ought not to have to face remote instructions.  They don’t know what various parts of equipment are called, they ought not to have to know, they ought not to be expected to have even elementary technical expertise poking this and pressing that with toothpicks and the long end of a paper clip.  And to be requested to “register” a phone. 

The danger of allowing the copper network to be discontinued.

Fibre optic phones depend on electricity to operate and have the potential not to work in times of emergency when they are most needed.  The Townsville operator (May) asked had there been a storm.  Does this mean everytime there is a storm, there is the potential to “lose” a phone service.  How twenty first century is that?

We are warned by the latest report from the Climate Commission (April 2013) of more intense extreme weather related events, more often, in the future in this country. When there are horrendous fires, or severe weather events such as gale force winds, storms, with trees and wires down, floods etc, we will lose our phone connection because there is no longer any copper wire land line at the time we vitally need it.  Mobile phones become useless (as was seen recently in Tasmania with fires on the Tasman Peninsula); they need to be charged constantly. Even the electrical transmission system “repeaters” (?) on hilltops can also fail.  Fibre optic phones potentially have the same problem, even on a battery system. The backup, FN believes, lasts exactly three hours but can’t get agreement on that time…. (another question asked). 

The service currently being offered by NBN simply won’t do. In fact it’s totally unconscionable.  Perhaps if senior executives were exposed to the incompetent service, or had a potential life threatening condition, things might change.  One hopes.

Surely the account related here,

• gives a strong argument for retaining the copper wire phone to the premises.
• gives an equally strong argument that the existing copper wire should be maintained in top class condition… or itself be replaced but kept if this is the customer’s wish.
• suggests that there ought to be a much longer transitioning time in which the copper wire system remains in place (10 -15 years at least). 
• That choice is again returned to the people for this period, especially the elderly.
• Makes a case that in Tasmania the contractual arrangements between Telstra, governments at state and federal levels, with the NBN must be changed.

Competency.

There’s a blank out there, an enormous void for anyone who wants to know the whys and wherefores before signing up.  We’re supposed to say “yes” to what we don’t know and can’t find out and what currently exhibits as a plethora of problems.  This is a very complicated technology and none of it has been adequately explained to us, the end user. We’re not all tech-heads and we’re not all young.

We have no say, being obviously treated like collateral victims of governments, large and powerful corporations which at the top either couldn’t care less, or haven’t a clue. It is a form of hidden abuse; in fact FN considers this is a form of legalised blackmail.

When one signs up, there are obvious glitches.  What this means is that the phone that we used to have, which used to work, day in and day out, doesn’t do so, any longer.

Trying to get it fixed is a nightmare. Priority Assistance counts for nought. Will someone end up suing Telstra and/or NBN because at levels way up the chain (or down the chain) there is no agreement between what is a Telstra fault and what is an NBN fault.

What this story illustrates is how bruising, painful, highly stressful and frightening the system has become for elderly people caught in a web of confused, totally inadequate, and non caring decision making at high levels.  The new electronics technology and NBN is not only a new language, it is accompanied by a fundamental change at the installation and operational levels. It is a language and a system that the elderly haven’t been taught.  Yet when on the end of a phone talking to an NBN representative, they’re expected to know what it is, and worse to understand how it operates.  Even when getting past the automated system in place.

The dubious end point

The above story is our reality as we age in Tasmania. It’s the facelessness, opaqueness and obliqueness that is so confronting and scary. It’s not just the technology and the change, it’s the ease of use of a new device that was once very simple to use.

The telephone. 

Seventy years ago phones worked.  We relied on them. We still rely on them sometimes to save our lives.  Today, NBN offers something less satisfactory than what we had way back then.  And this is progress?  No, this is shame.

[For further information see Mercury 11 October 2012, Telstra-NBN Co deal: Telstra plans phased copper decommission; Majority of Australians will be pushed to an ubiquitous NBN over time, James Hutchinson (Computerworld), 21 June, 2010 12:39, See Appendix 1. NBN Media Release 10 October, 2012; Ben Grubb, Tasmanians to be forced to connect to NBN under new laws, October 7, 2010; The Australian. States baulk at opt-out on NBN link, by: Mitchell Bingemann and Lauren Wilson, From: The Australian, October 08, 2010; http://www.itnews.com.au/News/238689,tasmania-readies-nbn-opt-out-legislation.aspx,By Ry Crozier on Nov 16, 2010 12:01 AM,Filed under Telco/ISP; http://www.itnews.com.au/News/311334,nbn-turns-opt-out-for-future-builds.aspx NBN turns opt-out for future builds, By James Hutchinson on Aug 8, 2012 4:28 PM Filed under Telco/ISP]

Picture: Rob Walls, http://robertwalls.wordpress.com/

Earlier: Is photography becoming a crime?

Editor: The writer, OCRC, is known to the Editor, but wishes to remain anonymous.

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OCRC responds to comments, in Comments: A very real problem was the lack of education for the change.  Oh I guess it was all over the relevant Internet sites.  Not much use if you can’t operate a computer. Some compassion would have been nice.  Some constructive suggestions would have been very much appreciated. A transition time would have been most a appreciated ...

• Barbara Mitchell’s NBN Experience, in Comments: … An even bigger mistake followed.  I enquired about the location of the equipment and was told it must be placed in the garage.  I do not have a garage, but I could not convince her of this.  She kept repeating that the units must be installed in a garage, as though I must have one, if I could only be bothered to go outside and look.  I advised her that garages were a bit thin on the ground in South Hobart, but she was having none of it.  If I really didn’t have a garage, then perhaps a laundry would do, but she wasn’t promising anything. The appointments were duly made – not a specific time, but the ‘morning’ or ‘afternoon’ options so favoured by utility providers.  Anything to keep you at home for several hours, waiting.